Utes pick up 600th win in 35-15 victory over UNLV

By Bryan Chouinard, Asst. Sports Editor

Las Vegas8212;For the second straight week, the Utes played spoiler on the road, beating UNLV in the Rebels’ Homecoming Game, 35-15. The loss was UNLV’s eighth straight loss on Homecoming Night.

The Utes took care of business last weekend when they handed Colorado State its third loss of the season, also on Colorado’s Homecoming Weekend.

But that wasn’t the only similarity between Utah’s first two Mountain West Conference wins of the season. For the second straight week, senior free safety Robert Johnson stole the show on the road, helping the Utes to their fifth win on the season.

“(Johnson) is a great player,” said Utah starting quarterback Terrance Cain. “I don’t know where we would be without him, but he’s a great player and does great things for us.”

Johnson, who was named to the preseason All-MWC team, was also was named the MWC Defensive Player of the Week a week ago after snagging three interceptions against the Rams, and he had another big night Saturday. In the second quarter of Saturday’s game, Johnson recorded his fifth interception of the season at the UNLV 39-yard line, which he returned 31 yards before being brought down.

“A lot of quarterbacks have started to throw at me,” Johnson said. “So I just have to show why I was preseason all-conference.”

The return set up a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Cain8212;his second rushing touchdown of the season. The pick was Johnson’s fifth on the season and fourth in two games, which ties him for top in the nation in interceptions.

But Johnson wasn’t done yet8212;the senior struck again on the Rebels’ next drive.

After UNLV quarterback Omar Clayton threw his second interception of the quarter to defensive tackle Christian Cox, Cox fumbled the ball right into the Johnson’s arms, who took the fumble recovery 64 yards back for the score.

“I was going in trying to make the tackle,” Johnson said. “The ball popped right in my hands, so I just had to do what I do with it.”

It was the second time this season Johnson has returned a fumble for a touchdown, the first coming against Oregon when the safety returned a fumble 26 yards to the end zone.

“(Johnson) is a playmaker back there,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s one of the best free safeties in the country, I believe. He’s a valuable part of what we’re doing.”

Johnson is quickly making a name for himself as one of the most dangerous safeties not only in the conference, but also in the nation.

After being down 28-6 at half time, the Rebels battled back in the third quarter, scoring twice to make the score 28-15 going into the fourth. The Utes responded with their first possession of the fourth quarter, which was capped off by a 37-yard touchdown run by junior Eddie Wide8212;the longest of his career. Wide finished the night with 111 yards on 17 carries, his third 100-yard game of the season.

“Eddie has big shoes to fill,” Whittingham said. “The run game is something that we are very adamant about establishing each week, and that’s not going to change.”

The Utes sealed the win with a crucial red-zone stand when the Utah defense forced the Rebels to turn the ball over on downs with a little more than 9 minutes left in the game.

Even after being put in one tough situation after another because of turnovers and penalties, the Utah red-zone defense held strong, giving up only three field goals on five UNLV red zone positions.

After being on the road for two straight weeks, the Utes will now return to Rice-Eccles Stadium for a three-game home stand that kicks off Saturday against Air Force. Johnson said he is excited to return home, even with the strong following the Utes had inside Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday night.

“It means a lot that (the fans) came,” Johnson said. “It seemed like we made this home cause there was a few times that our fans got louder than their fans; that helped a lot.”

Saturday’s win marked the 600th in Utah’s history and the Utes became only the 39th NCAA team to record 600 wins.

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Tyler Cobb/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Robert Johnson carries the ball toward the end zone after a fumble as Omar Clayton follows during Saturday?s game. The Utes beat the Rebels 35-15.